Ruthless Arsenal deliver Fulham reality check on opening day

Arsenal eased into the new season with a comfortable 3-0 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. Mikel Arteta’s side enjoyed a pleasant afternoon beside the Thames after Alexandre Lacazette opened the scoring from close range in the ninth minute.

Gabriel Magalhaes, the defender signed from Lille this summer, added a second with a powerful header from a corner four minutes into the second half. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang confirmed the away side’s supremacy with an excellent strike after 57 minutes. Arsenal will face tougher opposition but Arteta’s team, who lined up in a 3-4-3 formation, were much too good for Fulham.

For Scott Parker it was a grim opening to the campaign. The home side showed little going forward and were hapless at the back.  

Arsenal began the match with a bit of comedy defending of their own. Magalhaes started his career in England with a David Luiz moment. Kieran Tierney stumbled over the ball and pushed it out wide under pressure, giving Ainsley Maitland-Niles little option but to pass back towards his own goal. The ball rolled close to Magalhaes, who should have cleared, but the 22-year-old let it run. Aboubakar Kamara was on to the ball in a flash but Bernd Leno was equally alert and smothered the chance.

It was a surprise that Scott Parker left Aleksandar Mitrovic on the bench but it was quickly apparent why. The Serb lacks mobility. Fulham’s plan was to press the Arsenal defenders when they were in possession. Magalhaes’ error suggested that it might have worked.

Unfortunately for Parker his own defence cracked first. Denis Odoi got caught under a fairly straightforward diagonal pass from deep and allowed Aubameyang to get on the ball in the area. The Fulham back line completely lost their shape and the striker was able to pick out Granit Xhaka just inside the area. The midfielder’s shot was blocked but Willian had a second chance with the rebound. Marek Rodak saved that effort but the ball ran to Lacazette, who hit the net from a yard out. It was an untidy goal made uglier by messy defending.  

Both teams are committed to playing out from the back, even when circumstances appear to demand an agricultural hoof. This made for entertaining but somewhat scatterbrained action. Fulham struggled to establish a pattern and Arsenal became more coherent as they grew into the game. Arteta’s system allows the wing backs to range forward with impunity. There were early signs of a potentially impressive partnership between Hector Bellerin and Willian on the right. The Brazilian changed the point of attack by drifting wide to the byline, allowing Bellerin to charge down the inside channel. Fulham were unable to cut off this threat down the flank. Those who lobbied for Nicholas Pepe to be selected over Willian had their arguments undermined by the former Chelsea man.

Willian came close to adding a second when he rapped a free kick against the foot of the post. Aubameyang then tested Rodak after Tierney lobbed into the area. Fulham struggled to deal with obvious balls from near the halfway line.

The home side looked neat in possession the middle of the park but lacked the wit to pick apart Arsenal once the visitors dropped into a five-man back line. Magalhaes, after his early blunder, showed his strength in the air but Fulham rarely tested the centre half on his Premier League debut. He reached half time with the look of a man who was beginning to think English football was easy.

That impression was confirmed four minutes into the second period when Magalhaes rose to power home a Willian corner. Michael Hector was not strong enough to stop the Arsenal defender, whose classic downward header left Rodak with no chance.

The match was turning into a rout. Willian picked up the ball on the right and sent a fine crossfield pass in the direction of Aubameyang. The Gabon striker had been terrorising Odoi all afternoon and this time he drove into the area, left the defender flatfooted with a cutback and curled the ball into the far corner. It was all too simple for Arsenal and Parker will be hoping that Kenny Tete and Ola Aina, two of the summer’s defensive recruits, assimilate quickly and improve the back line.

The rampant Aubameyang reached the byline at will. His cross to Lacazette gave the Frenchman a golden opportunity from inside the six-yard box but this time Rodak was able to save. It was one-way traffic. Fulham did not create anything of note.

This was a positive start for Arteta but Parker is facing a long winter. It is hard to judge Arsenal’s prospects because of the paucity of the opposition but Fulham need to get better very quickly if they are to survive.

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